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Step back Afrobeat...reggae still rules!

THE LEGACY CONTINUES: Bob Marley

I HAVE to be totally honest. Having written numerous articles about what I believed to be a decline in dancehall over the last few years, I was initially stumped in trying to figure out how I’d go about defending the music.

Though I will forever be a reggae fan, I must admit, my passion for dancehall’s current output isn’t as strong as it was for the songs the genre produced, say, five years ago.

But – and it’s a huge but – if we’re talking about a musical popularity contest, Afrobeat has a long way to go before it can earn dancehall’s credentials.

Whether we’re looking at the genre past or present, dancehall has made, and continues to make a massive impact on the international music scene – far greater than Afrobeat can claim to have done.

Last week, my Nigerian colleague Juliana Lucas spoke of the evolution and rise of Afrobeat, which has seen the music begin to forge a place in British society.

She also recounted what she believes is a growing sense of pride amongst young, British-based Africans, who are now keen to embrace and celebrate their culture, particularly their music.

This is all great stuff. But frankly, an increase in Nigerian nightclubs in London and the recent inclusion of the Afro Beats show on Choice FM, hardly constitute Afrobeat’s grand triumph over dancehall. Naturally, BBC 1Xtra dancehall DJ Robbo Ranx agrees.

“I’m thrilled that Africans now feel a greater sense of pride in their culture,” he says. “And it’s great that they can go to clubs and jump up if the DJ drops some hi-life. But if you look at international chart success, Afrobeat hasn’t had half the success that dancehall has.

“Artists like Shaggy and Shabba Ranks, who haven’t even put out any mainstream hits for a good few years, are still more popular and well-known than any current Afrobeat artist. Just because you can go to a few clubs where Nigerian music gets played, doesn’t mean it’s now bigger than dancehall.


POPULAR: Shaggy

“It’s like me going to a soca club, seeing the rise of soca clubs in London and then declaring that soca is bigger than hip-hop! It doesn’t work like that.”

Robbo Ranx acknowledges that “international success isn’t always the barometer to use when talking about dancehall” because that isn’t always a reflection of “what’s popular in the streets.”

With this in mind, maybe Afrobeat does have some legs. After all, who’s to say if Vybz Kartel and Mavado are bigger within the dancehall fraternity than D’Banj and PSquare are on the Afrobeat scene?


TALENT: D’Banj and PSquare

But in terms of how these two genres translate within the wider music scene, there really is no competition.
The aforementioned Shaggy has sold over 20 million records in his career and is still going strong, having recently appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno to promote his new album Summer In Kingston. Sean Paul breathed new life into dancehall’s commercial acceptance with his hits Gimme The Light and Get Busy.

And more recently, Gyptian found huge mainstream favour with his smash hit Hold You. Afrobeat simply cannot boast those kinds of credentials.

You only have to look at the artists’ relevance outside their own genre. Indeed, Fela Kuti’s impact on the global music landscape isn’t to be sniffed at. But I bet if you asked your average Joe Bloggs on the street to name five Afrobeat artists, they’d struggle. In stark contrast, there’s a plethora of reggae stars, past and present, whose global impact has been so significant (Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Shaggy, et al), their names could roll off the tongues of even those who don’t claim to be reggae fans.

And let’s look at the music itself. While I don’t claim to be well-versed with Afrobeat, one thing I have noted is that much of it sounds distinctly dancehall. Yes, Afrobeat is described as a fusion of numerous genres – including reggae. But songs that sound undeniably dancehall can hardly be classified as anything else, regardless of who’s singing or rapping on them.

I Love You by Nigerian duo PSquare and Tease Me from rising Nigerian star WizKid are just two examples of songs that ride on a dancehall beat. So while the artists may well be Nigerian, the music isn’t!


RISING STAR: WizKid

In addition, how do artists like WizKid and M.I explain the fact that they hail from Nigeria, yet have a tendency to slip into American accents in their songs? Surely part of the ‘African pride’ that Juliana spoke of in her article last week is singing/rhyming in your own accent and not adopting someone else’s?

For all the controversy that shrouds the careers of dancehall artists like Buju Banton and Vybz Kartel, when they open their mouths on record, there’s no denying they’re Jamaicans. In fact, I can’t think of any reggae artist, even those who attained commercial success – think Shaggy, Sean Paul, Beenie Man and Shabba Ranks – who strayed from their Jamaican twang on their records in a bid to suit the mainstream market.


PROUD: Vybz Kartel, left, and Buju Banton

On top of that (I’m on a roll now), reggae boasts huge annual festivals that take place throughout the world. Reggae Sumfest in Jamaica, Rototom Sunsplash in Italy, Summerjam in Germany and the upcoming One Love Peace Festival here in the UK are just a few of the international reggae events that draw huge crowds from all over the world.

Meanwhile, London’s HMV Hammersmith Apollo will play host to the Afrobeats Festival next month. Great stuff for Afrobeat fans in the UK, but clearly, the genre’s not yet big enough to warrant international festivals.
And another thing – don’t get me started on the cultural impact reggae has made outside the music industry.

The genre has inspired films (The Harder They Come); provided the backdrop for dub poetry, fronted by phenomenal artists like Linton Kwesi Johnson and Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze; it even served as the brand name on which entrepreneur Levi Roots built his Reggae Reggae Sauce empire! Let’s just say, I’ve yet to hear of Naija Naija sauce.

Yes, Afrobeat is on the rise. But pitted against the international phenomenon that is reggae, the genre still has a long way to go. As Robbo Ranx concludes:

“Reggae is such a huge force. You only have to say ‘Bob Marley’ and it blows everything out of the water.”
Nuff said.

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